How to Report Unethical Behavior Without Disrupting Working Relations

Reports of unethical behavior in the workplace, and the resulting fallout, can create serious, and quite unnecessary, strains in workplace relationships.

Issues in reporting unethical behavior

There are some very important considerations required, when reporting unethical behavior. You must yourself be ethical, when reporting, and you must make your report in an appropriate way:

Ethical issues:

Do not make a report at all, unless you're sure of your facts:
Ask questions before you do anything. Ask why something is done in that particular way, not whether it's ethical. You may find that you're leaping to judgment. Remember, you're reporting a case as you see it, and you may not have all the facts, or understand the reason for the behavior. If you're new in a workplace in particular, there may be a normal process which looks wrong, but is based on some business issue of which you're unaware.

Do not discuss, mention, or make any allegations at all, outside the reporting process:
You may be making defamatory, damageable statements. If you're wrong, you may also be doing someone a serious injustice. This is also a form of office gossip which may rebound on you very unfavorably, and destroy workplace relationships. You're also unlikely to be thanked by management for creating discussions of this kind. 

Be impartial, when making your report. Simply list the issues:

What happened:
Make sure your report contains factual statements only. Do not include any prejudicial remarks or comments about the parties involved.

What you consider unethical about this situation, and why:
Keep it simple, non-judgmental, and brief as possible, to make the position easy to read and understand.

You may state any possible liability to the employer possible from this behavior, as part of your report. This is an ethical obligation to the employer, and puts your report in context with business issues.  

Practical issues:

Everything you do, when reporting a situation, must be according to the rules.

Check regarding the correct procedures for reporting:
In most cases, Human Resources are the best people to ask about the reporting process and the issues. You can do this without mentioning any names, too, so it will help you retain confidentiality, and prove you're not spreading gossip.

You can state that you don't feel it right to name anyone, until you're sure of the facts of the matter. Human Resources are also "workplace neutral", not directly involved in the issues. Stick to the procedural route, unless there's an excellent reason for another course of action.

Do not make unsupported accusations, under any circumstances:
Make sure you can support your report with verifiable information. If you can't, making the report could be a serious mistake. Even if you're right, the lack of evidence undermines your case severely.

Don't "grandstand" the issue:
Your report is just a case of doing your job, not trying to get attention, which can seriously irritate managers and co-workers, even if you're right about the problems.

Reporting unethical behavior is the correct thing to do. One of the obligations of ethical systems is to apply meaningful standards with your own behavior. Your workplace relationships may improve greatly, when you're seen to apply those standards to your work and obligations.